UPD Campus Watch intiative draws little interest

The University Police Department’s Campus Watch initiative, which provides pre-programmed cell phones to selected students, will continue despite little student interest in the program, officials said Tuesday.

The program, which began in September 2002, is designed to foster student involvement in spotting safety and security breaches on campus. Student volunteers carry one of 40 Sprint PCS cell phones pre-programmed to call a UPD officer. Volunteers are unable to dial other numbers on the phones.

In the 2002-03 academic year, 10 volunteers made nine calls on the cell phones, UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said. The program currently has two volunteers, and a few more applications were received during a promotional event at Kogan Plaza earlier this month.

Stafford, who attributed the low student interest to a lack of awareness about Campus Watch, said UPD would be scheduling more promotional events at Kogan Plaza and in residence halls to foster interest in the program.

“With any new program, it takes time to build a reputation for being a good program,” she said. “We were happy with the number of people that recently expressed an interest in the program and we will continue to get the word out.”

GW is the only university nationwide to employ Sprint-operated cell phones for security purposes, Sprint spokeswoman Lisa Idhe said, adding that no other universities have expressed interest in the program.

Volunteers are instructed to look for hazards that may pose threats to the safety of the GW community during their daily routine, Stafford said. Calls placed with the cell phones last year included reports of burnt out lights, stolen street signs, a damaged car and a report of loud noise.

Idhe said the instances in which students used cell phones to report possible security hazards were warranted.

“Being able to notify police that a light is out is directly related to safety – it serves the purpose of the program,” she said. “Those kinds of calls will be far greater in number than a volunteer actually witnessing an emergency situation.”

Students are not encouraged to use the cell phones to report other students’ behavior unless their safety is in jeopardy, Stafford said. Roommate disputes and drug and liquor law violations should be reported by contacting UPD directly or by notifying a community facilitator or other staff member.

“If they feel the need to make that call we will accept it and determine the appropriate action to take,” Stafford said of incidents volunteers are not encouraged to report.

No emergency calls have been placed, she added.

When the program was introduced last year, some students expressed concern that it would be used to report other students’ actions.

Stafford said fears of Campus Watch evolving into a “narc program” are unfounded, as calls only pertaining to “legitimate safety concerns” have been placed.

All students, faculty and employees are eligible to participate in the program, Stafford said. UPD runs background checks on all applicants to ensure they have not committed any federal crimes.

Those who are accepted are required to attend a one- to two-hour training session to become familiar with the program. Volunteers’ names are kept confidential.

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